WINNIPEG — On June 3, Winnipeg’s Jewish community will be celebrating a remarkable transformation.
Ten years ago, faced with a community whose numbers had declined from a peak of about 21,000 people in 1961 to just over 14,000 by 2002, Jewish leaders were looking for ways to reverse the trend.
In response, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg established the GrowWinnipeg Initiative to stabilize and increase the city’s Jewish population. But while it also focused on keeping young Jews in Winnipeg and persuading former Winnipeggers to return, the program has seen its greatest success in attracting new immigrants.
The effort has led to more than 1,600 Jewish families moving to this city from Israel, eastern Europe, the United States and South America, boosting Winnipeg’s Jewish population to more than 16,500.
The celebration will be held at the Asper Jewish Community Campus, and organizers are hoping that up to 600 people – newcomers and host families alike – will attend. The evening will feature a kosher barbecue by leading Jewish chefs in the community, as well as a popular local DJ and door prizes.
“The idea grew out of a conversation that some of us had last summer about doing something to thank our new community for welcoming us as they have,” said Sergio Levy, a member of the organizing committee who came to Winnipeg with his wife, Adriana, also a committee member, from Buenos Aires 10 years ago.
“We started working and meeting with other groups over the winter. We have had a lot of interest.”
Organizers have promoted the event on Facebook and on the federation’s website. There will also be a video with stories from the new Jewish Winnipeggers that will hopefully inspire others to move here.
“It was a shidduch made in heaven,” said Evelyn Hecht, the federation official who was key in encouraging immigration and ensuring that newcomers were heartily welcomed.
“Our program was more successful than we dared imagine. The people who came were just the kind of people our community needed and wanted.”
Initially largely from Argentina and more recently mainly from Russia and Israel, they were, for the most part, younger professional people with young families. As a result, the community’s average age is lower than it was and the newcomers have eagerly embraced the community and its institutions.
Sergio and Adriana Levy, for example, were originally deciding between Toronto and Winnipeg. Sergio first came to Winnipeg as a result of a visit by Winnipeg community representatives, led by Hecht, to Buenos Aires. He said he was so impressed by the welcome he received here that he didn’t bother with Toronto.
Paulina Rozenman, also from Buenos Aires, chose Winnipeg over Toronto for the same reason. “There are opportunities for our children here that weren’t available in Argentina,” she said.
Argentina-born Davo Brunstein said that Winnipeg is “just the right size” for him and his family.
“Here we have time to spend with our families and volunteer in the community,” he said. “I take my daughter back to visit Argentina from time to time to show her where we came from so she can better appreciate what we have now.”
GrowWinnipeg co-ordinator Faye Rosenberg Cohen said the new arrivals from South America, Israel, Russia and elsewhere have changed the culture of the community.
“Newcomers and long-established members of the community have met in the middle,” she said. “I have gotten more used to hugging and kissing [the South American way of greeting] rather than shaking hands. And the new members of our community help us appreciate better what we have here.”